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Why I Took A Solo Unplanned Trip To Rishikesh - My Tryst With Freedom

Why I Took A Solo Unplanned Trip To Rishikesh - My Tryst With Freedom

I smoked up, chilled with hippies and did a host of things I never imagined I would.

Barring one short trip to New Delhi in 2013 that I had taken with my friends to watch Mutemath live at NH7 Weekender, I had only ever travelled with my parents. I had never even been to /  been allowed to go to school or college trips. Then 2014 brought “the very first day of the rest of my life” as I left Calcutta and moved to Delhi to pursue my Masters and new liberties.

Cut to 2016.

I am in my room in Jamia Nagar, sprawled out on my bed like a feline creature, considering my drunken proclamations from the previous night about travelling solo very seriously. I was so determined that it did not even occur to me to book my tickets online so, I did it the old school way. Within an hour, I had my ticket in hand for a bus that left for Rishikesh the day after.

My first solo tripMy first solo trip

Naturally, excitement got the better of me as I fantasized about hypothetical adventures and indulged in prolonged hours of carefree day-dreaming, completely insouciant to the logistics of travelling. I read no travel blogs, bothered to call no one for tips, did little or no research, save for the Wikipedia page on Rishikesh. I did not even find out what the weather was going to be like. The only knowledge I had was that it was in Uttarakhand and that I was going to get to chill with a lot of hippies and smoke a lot of pot freely!

No prizes for guessing that I made the most clichéd rookie mistakes. I carried a superfluous amount of winter clothes that I never wore, make-up I never used and stuffed it all in a trolley duffel bag (emulating my mother) instead of the regular rucksack. I did not carry any form of first-aid (which I was going to need, as you will see), appropriate shoes, a towel, a torch and other such silly stuff that I am going to abstain from sharing so as to protect my dignity. However, my spirits were so high that these were all going to unravel as horrific impediments only after my arrival.

En route from Haridwar to Rishikesh En route from Haridwar to Rishikesh

At 11:30 p.m. I discovered that my bus - scheduled to leave at 11:50 – was cancelled, which is when I lost it. After blasting the guys at the counter and having made it amply clear that “I was going to go to Rishikesh that very night by or hook or crook”, I somehow managed to procure an instant refund and get them to make alternate arrangements.

By 12:15 a.m. I was on a non-AC, non-deluxe, recliner seat bus to Haridwar (in place of my AC-deluxe Volvo to Rishikesh), but I was resolute and found solace in the  steep fall of travel costs and the possibility of being able to smoke sneakily through the open windows. I had no qualms or care for issues of comfort or safety,  like the fact that it was going to give me a horrible back ache by morning or that it was a regular commuter bus so literally anybody could hop on through the journey. I was just happy that the bus finally pulled out of the terminal as I knowingly put the song Road-Tripping by RHCP on repeat. Someone in the backseat lit a joint and whatever semblance of concern I had in me drifted out of the window along with the smoke.

Haridwar came early around 6 a.m. To reach my destination, I had to sit through another rickety bus ride which dropped me off at Rishikesh Bus Stop. However, I learnt that most of the guest houses and hotels were located in the areas of Ram and Laxman Jhulla, for which I needed an auto. I think my duffel bag must have given me away for the guy lured me into paying him an exorbitant Rs.200 for a ten minute ride.

Sea view from hotel River view from hotel

I self-assuredly zeroed in on Hotel Sea View in Ram Jhulla as soon as I reached. Another mistake because, everything worth its name was near Laxman Jhulla, so I basically added a compulsory forty minute walk (up and down) to my itinerary every day. In retrospect actually, I do not regret it at all. The walks or the hotel.

Every room had a little sitting space outside with a magnificent view the Ganga emerging somewhere far off from amidst the hills. I am quite openly spectrophobic and as such I spent each night with my room door wide-open as the sound of water ripples lulled me to slumber. I had never been so peacefully asleep in such an uncomfortably invasive setting.

My mornings mostly comprised of marveling- at my guts, at the pulchritude of Rishikesh, at the Ganga, at the hippies, the saints and the sinners. Apart from which I just smoked, ate, wrote a little and primarily loitered.

Evening view from Freedom Café Evening view from Freedom Café

The very day I arrived, I became a loyalist to Freedom Café in Laxman Jhulla, to its chili cheese toast and green tea, which became my staple breakfast. In the evenings, when the city became eerily quiet, lovers would walk back to their room hand-in-hand. My love was way down in the East, so I would spend them teaching the little boys who worked in Freedom and Ganga café basic English to help them interact with foreigners easily.

I had not done much research but hearsay was enough to know that Rishikesh boasted of white water rafting. The colorful posters inviting you to Camp nights, treks and a host of other adventure sports were undoubtedly enticing, but the sirens in my pocket rang loud and clear so I discarded that. Rafting however, I was going to try. And I did.

Preparing for rafting Preparing for rafting

Each time the coach hollered instructions in his encouraging voice, I experienced an adrenaline rush and paddled with more strength. When he was half way through saying “look how she is doing it” to someone, pointing towards me, I was already drafting my thank you speech for Best Rafter of Rishikesh Award. My confidence had reached indomitable heights up until I was myself asked to do the same, literally that is.

I was wholly unaware of the fact that cliff jumping was part and parcel of what I had signed up for. Apart from specters, I am also fairly scared of heights. So when they pulled over near what might be a joke of a cliff to a ‘Do the Dew’ kind of person, and said this is where you will jump from; I felt a sudden urge to drown. After much contemplations, many emboldening words and the sight of a 12 year old laughing at me, I decided to go for it. Once conquered, I did it all over again! All of this daring business was happening in Shivalik, 16kms away from main Rishikesh so when I came back, I quietly resigned to my room and flopped down on my bed. This was perhaps the only night my door remained closed.

Me rejoicing after cliff jumping Me rejoicing after cliff jumping

Next day I hired a cycle that was all too big for me and decided to organize my own little adventure trip to the Beatles ashram- a place I never made it to. Somewhere midway I banged into an incoming jeep which left my knee looking like an abstract painting in red. I limped back to Laxman Jhulla feeling completely defeated. Thankfully it was Saturday and Shiva café was having a live jam session.

That was the night I really let my hair down. Sure I was limping, but I still whacked my ass out to some impromptu hip-hop churned out by an Indian guy on the guitar, an Israeli on the Djembe, a German rapping and a localite rocking the Didgeridoo. It was also the night I met some of the most insanely awesome people I have ever met in my life. Amongst whom, one became a friend.

View from Shivalik View from Shivalik

Jeniffer. She was from Brazil, used to be a lawyer until the day she tried ayahuasca. She had such a helluva trip that it brought her straight to India. “I just looove how I do mostly nothing here”, she said. It was Jeniffer, who thought I should stay another day so we can hang out when we are not so shit faced.

Keeping to the impulsive tone of my entire trip, I decided to stay on another day. Jeniffer and I spent the whole day doing what she loved- nothing. Occasionally we grabbed a bite, gorged on some Bruschetta-the apt pronunciation for which I learnt while being corrected by an Italian- went for a swim and of course, smoked.

Late evening, when I emerged from my trance, I was hit by a financial calamity. I had just about enough cash to board the bus and nowhere to stay.

Well, not really, because I had Freedom café. So that’s where I spent the last night of my first trip alone, in a café!

Rishikesh- my attempt at photography Rishikesh- my attempt at photography

It was here that I saw the loneliness of hills for what it truly is; as the kind of loneliness that does not expect to be left alone but likes visitors more than invaders. Perhaps that itself is the beauty of the mountains. That it can show you the beauty of being left alone and that is what I took back home.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.

 

By Suman Quazi
Photographs by: Suman Quazi
Cover photo credit: farm4.staticflickr.com